Jermaine Scott Cherry (MBA, ’20) didn’t exactly have a straightforward path to the Zicklin School. “I started college [at another CUNY school] at age 18, but I was a nontraditional student,” he says. “It took me 11 years to finish my bachelor’s.”
Maybe that’s why he didn’t waste a second once he got here. Not only did he finish his MBA ahead of schedule, but he did it while simultaneously earning a second degree from Brooklyn Law School, as part of the Zicklin School’s joint JD/MBA program. Today Jermaine is a second-year associate working in mergers and acquisitions for Kirkland & Ellis, the largest law firm in the world as measured by revenue. He sat down for an interview with Zicklin News.
Zicklin News: Tell us your story. Why did you choose the Zicklin School?
Jermaine Scott Cherry: I’d been working as an assistant vice president at JPMorgan Chase for several years when I decided I wanted to get a legal and business education to move up the corporate ladder. I had friends who worked in investment banking and they told me how respected the Zicklin program was. It was also around the time my second child was born and the desire to be a good provider for my family gave me the push I needed.
ZN: Did you consider any other schools?
JSC: Yes. In fact, I turned down a JD/MBA program at a private New York City university, because their MBA program wasn’t ranked as highly as Zicklin’s.
ZN: Did you work while you were studying?
JSC: Not at first. I started law school first and attended full time, and when you do that you don’t have time for much else. Not only did I quit my job, but I convinced my partner, who had a similar position in commercial banking, to quit hers as well. We have three kids and I knew we wouldn’t be able to handle our family responsibilities if either of us was working full time.
ZN: How did you manage that?
JSC: I own a two-family house in Brooklyn, so my family lived in the more modest part of the house and rented out the rest. The following summer I began a paid part-time internship at American Express in a dual legal/business capacity and also started the Evening MBA program at the Zicklin School. In between summer internships, I took on any part-time work I could find, from handling small consulting jobs, like drafting documents and helping people set up LLCs [limited liability companies], to delivering food for Uber Eats, to stocking shelves at Duane Reade. That was humbling, especially after having been a VP at Chase.
ZN: Were you always so motivated?
JSC: I think so. It’s just that I come from very humble beginnings and didn’t always have the resources I needed. I’m from the inner city; when I was going to college I was working full time. Sometimes I couldn’t afford to buy books; sometimes I couldn’t afford to go to school, or I’d have to skip class to go to work. I faced lots of adversity in my journey, but that is exactly what the Zicklin School is all about. If you have the determination, the resources are there, and it’s affordable.
ZN: What was your favorite class at Zicklin?
JSC: The business consulting capstone course. Our project was consulting for a biotech company that uses aggregated biometrical data to help doctors diagnose diseases more quickly through machine learning, biometric technology, data scrubbing, and aggregation. The company wanted us to do a competitive analysis to determine what would be the most advantageous market niche for them to use the technology. For someone who’d already been in client-facing business roles for years, I knew how amazing it was that people who were still in graduate school were learning how to interface with clients, work through their pain points, run a process, and deliver a service that was invaluable for the client.
ZN: How has your Zicklin degree made a difference?
JSC: It gave me a huge competitive advantage. Most of the attorneys I work with are Ivy League graduates. None of them went to public universities and most went straight to law school from college. The Zicklin MBA let me punch above my weight class, so to speak. I work in mergers and acquisitions, which is one of the most prestigious practice groups a lawyer can work in, and I represent clients in business transactions in the hundreds of millions, if not billions, of dollars. On top of all that, I still get five to 10 emails from headhunters every day, no exaggeration.